Handing Over the Keys: Coping with Dementia

keys-233368_640Tonight is another ordinary night; well, ordinary for this household. My mother has dementia and is also in a wheelchair. Mom has a chronically dislocated hip prosthesis. Because of the dementia, Mom had not been able to follow the precautions required with a new hip. A MRSA infection and flare-ups of infection also affected healing around the new hip. Despite a leg brace and what is called a constrained liner, the hip repeatedly dislocated and with each dislocation, because of the constrained liner, a surgery to relocate the hip was required.

After approximately three "regular" dislocations and two dislocations from the constrained liner, her orthopedic doctor made the decision, in June 2013, to leave the leg alone. Mom and her brain cannot handle another major surgery. Surprisingly, Mom is happy, without significant pain, and is "business-as-usual". She transfers really well with her good right leg.

The problem with "business-as-usual" (dementia) is that Mom is not cognizant of her limitations. Today, we met with a nurse and administrator from Home Helpers. The nurse asked Mom if she could walk with a walker up and down the hallway. Mom smiled and replied, "Sure". Mom will tell you how she picked something up at the store. She will tell you how she will do the laundry and pay the bills and not to worry about them. If you tell her that she cannot be home alone, she will ask, "Why on earth not?"

Left to her own devices she will try to walk across the room even though the dislocated leg is six inches shorter than the other. She will drink coffee all day and not eat. She will wear three shirts and a sweater in the 90-degree heat.

Until maybe last Thursday, nights for weeks on end were hell; they were frustrating and stressful. Despite the wheelchair and the crippled leg, each night Mom would insist that she had to go home. "I have to get home to my family and cook dinner". "My husband is looking for me." (My Dad passed in 2005). She would do anything she could to get out of the house, even in the pitch darkness.

One night she was screaming, "Help me, Help me." She won't let me leave. At one point, she wheeled herself out the front door and down off of the porch (no ramp) and into the driveway. Every night was a nightmare. All I could imagine was a women wheeling herself down a dark busy street to nowhere or worse yet, the four-lane highway. She could be struck by a semi. She could fall out of the wheelchair onto the cement and break the good leg or crack her head open.

One night, I just handed her the keys. I was exhausted.

That was the end of her trying to leave. All I can think of is that she felt helpless and out of control. Once she realized that she was ALLOWED to leave, but couldn't (she cannot walk/or drive), she snapped out of it.

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